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how to  wash a sweater

Lucky you! You've got some really nice sweaters. And cashmere!

By now, they've been worn a few times and need a date with the washing machine.

But you hold back, not wanting to lose that new look and feel.

Believe it or not, sweaters can survive the laundering process - and even come out looking good.

Here's how to wash a sweater safely.

sweater wash guidelines by fabric.

  • Acrylic: Acrylics are man-made fibers that can stretch when subjected to heat. Wash an acrylic sweater as directed on the label (usually warm water). Then either lay the sweater flat to dry, or tumble dry on low if the label says that's OK. 
  • Angora: An angora sweater is a blend of rabbit hair and synthetic fibers - and it's very prone to shrinking. If the label says your angora sweater can be washed, skip the machine for safety's sake. Instead, hand wash in a gentle laundry detergent or baby shampoo in cool water, lay it flat to dry.
  • Cashmere: Cashmere is made of goat hair blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Follow the laundry tags if you can read them. Usually, you can wash cashmere on the delicate cycle in cold water. Roll in a towel to squeeze out excess water after washing. Then reshape and dry on a flat surface, away from sunlight or direct heat.
  • Chenille: If you want chenille sweaters to stay soft, don't put them in the washing machine - even if the label says it's OK. The rubbing caused by the machine agitation can damage the fibers and make them snag or feel rough. Instead, a chenille sweater inside out by hand, and lay flat to dry.
  • Cotton: Usually, you can hand or machine wash cotton sweaters. Use the hottest water the laundry tags say is safe to ensure you remove all body soils and dirt. Lay flat to dry.
  • Silk: As long as it isn't beaded or have any other hand-stitched decor, most silk sweaters can be safely washed in the machine on a delicate cycle in cold water. Lay flat to dry. 
  • Wool: Some wool can be washed; others cannot. Shetland and Merino wools can be washed in cold water on the delicate cycle. Any agitation can cause wool sweaters to shrink, so you may want to consider washing your wool sweater in warm water and baby shampoo. Roll in a towel - don't twist - to remove moisture. Lay flat to dry. If you make a mistake, here's how to go about unshrinking a sweater. 

sweater washing and drying tips.

Always turn sweaters inside out to reduce pilling before washing. (Those little fuzzy balls or bits of fluff that show up on the surface are called "pills", and are the result of fiber agitation in the washing machine, which can cause them to break).

Wash the sweater in an extra-large mesh bag to further prevent pilling or any other fiber damage or stretching.

When hand washing, remove excess water by rolling the sweater in a towel.

Don't wring - you'll do the same damage to the delicate fibers as a washing machine.

  • Drying: If you do put your sweater in the dryer, dry on low heat and remove it when it's almost dry. Let it finish drying flat on a rack.
  • Flat drying: Place the sweater on a rack and reshape it as much as possible. Do not dry near heat or in direct sunlight. Check it occasionally to make sure it's not shrinking as it dries. If it does, pull it back out to its original size. (Mark the outline on your rack with tape.)
  • Pilling: If pilling does happen, the best way to remove it is to gently shave the surface with a plastic safety razor. But very, very gently.
  • Storage: Don't put away a sweater dirty. This makes it more attractive to pests. Also, some stains may set. Once a sweater is clean, fold to store it - don't hang. Hanging causes most sweaters to stretch out of shape.
  • To make sweaters last longer, air them out at least 24 hours after wearing. Fold and store out of direct light.

For more information on clothing tags and care labels, read the Guide to Garment Care Symbols from the American Cleaning Institute.

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About the Author

Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.